Jeremy Walker focuses on New Regionalism in new jazz season

MinnPost photo by John Whiting
Jeremy Walker introducing a previous Jazz in the Target Atrium concert.

If you’ve been thinking about getting tickets to Thursday night’s jazz concert in the glass-enclosed atrium at Orchestra Hall, you might want to do that now. The season opener to year two of Jazz in the Target Atrium, curated by composer, pianist and Minnesota Orchestra Artistic Director of Jazz, Jeremy Walker, is selling briskly. The whole 2015-16 series of four concerts is enjoying healthy presales.

Maybe you were at one of the 2014-15 shows, with guest musicians from Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra (who had earlier that night played a holiday concert in Orchestra Hall), trumpeter Ron Miles, pianist David Berkman or opera singers. Perhaps you attended one of the three after-concert performances by the Atrium Jazz Trio during the orchestra’s Sommerfest.

The Sommerfest shows were instructive for Walker as well as entertaining for the growing crowds. The Target Atrium, a 2,650-square-foot space with floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides looking out onto Peavey Plaza, Nicollet Mall and the downtown Minneapolis skyline, was conceived more as an event space than a concert space. Getting the sound right for jazz has been a work in progress.

Starting Thursday, the band will be in a corner of the room, not at front center. “The sound fans out, which changes it drastically,” Walker told MinnPost earlier this week. There’s no stage anymore because a stage traps bass frequency, which necessitates mics, amps and speakers. Without the stage, the music can be all acoustic. We’ve been waiting for that and welcome it.

The new season also has a theme: the New Regionalism. Walker is looking at ways in which the jazz we hear around the Twin Cities is connected to jazz in New Orleans and New York, Chicago and Kansas City. How it all comes together in a state where the Mississippi first bubbles up from the ground and the Great Plains meet the Eastern forests. Walker grew up here, and he has thought a lot about “how everything came through here, but nothing felt like it was from here.” And how “whatever has been adopted by musicians here ends up having a more open sound.”

Thursday’s concert, “Confluence: Hoagy Carmichael, Bob Dylan & More,” features guest artist and former Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra member Wessell “Warmdaddy” Anderson on alto saxophone. The program includes a new arrangement of Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country.” Walker said, “It’s not going to sound like a jazz standard, but it’s different harmonically.” Woven throughout will be the four movements of a new piece by Walker, “A River Like a Train.” He calls it “unintentionally nostalgic.”

“A train ran through my backyard as a kid,” he explains. “It was just a trunk line, but to me, it went everywhere.” So the first part is called “You Can Get Anywhere from Here.” The second part, “Race a Slow Train,” is a childhood memory: “I used to do a foot race with the slow train. It never went very fast across our backyard.” It’s also a pun on John Coltrane.

The third part, “Late Night Drive,” is rooted in a night when Walker heard saxophonist Pharoah Sanders play at the old Dakota in Bandana Square. “I was fired up about the music and didn’t want to go home, so I went for a drive. Within 10 minutes, I was in the country. … After that, I would often leave the Dakota and just drive. Gas was 89 cents a gallon and we didn’t know any better then. I would listen to [former MPR DJ Leigh Kamman] and hear all this music. It formed an aesthetic.” The fourth part, “Ring Road,” is also about driving: 494, 694, the ring roads you traveled if you were a jazz musician working gigs.

Now you know a little something about what to expect on Thursday evening. Walker will tell you more in his comments before the music begins. With Chris Thomson on tenor saxophone, Walker on piano, Jeff Brueske on bass and Tim Zhorne on drums. 7:30 p.m. FMI and tickets ($12 students and under 17, $25 adults).

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Traci Allen Shannon in “The Wizard of Oz”
Photo by Dan Norman
Traci Allen Shannon in “The Wizard of Oz”

How hot is Theater Latté Da’s production of “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”? So hot that 10 more performances have been added and the show has been extended beyond its original closing date of Oct. 25 to Nov. 1. FMI and tickets ($35-$45). We loved it.

At the Children’s Theatre, “The Wizard of Oz” hasn’t even opened yet (that happens Nov. 3) and has already been extended through Jan. 10, 2016 due to popular demand. The original closing date was Jan. 3. FMI and tickets ($10-$70).

The picks

Tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 6) at Magers & Quinn: John Freeman and Louise Erdrich discuss the launch of Freeman’s and its inaugural theme, Arrival. A renowned critic and writer, former president of the National Book Critics Circle, Freeman was the editor of the esteemed literary magazine Granta until 2013. Louise Erdrich … you know who she is. The eponymous Freeman’s literary journal is John Freeman’s next big thing, a brand-new biannual anthology of new fiction, nonfiction and poetry by emerging voices and famous writers alike. The inaugural edition features work by David Mitchell, Erdrich, Dave Eggers, Barry Lopez, Anne Carson, Ishion Hutchinson and many others. About Freeman’s, its creator has said, “I want it to be a home for the long form, as well as writing that feels possessed.” Hallelujah. 7 p.m. Free.

Tonight (Tuesday, Oct. 6) at Christ Chapel at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter: Nobel Concert. Part of the annual Nobel Conference at Gustavus, now in its 51st year, tonight’s concert includes Brahms’ arrangement for left hand only of the Chaconne from Bach’s Partita in D minor for Solo Violin, Scriabin’s Nocturne in D-flat Major for the Left Hand, and Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 8 – music of grief, powerlessness, transcendence, drama and despair, performed by members of the Gustavus faculty and a guest violinist from Denver. 8 p.m. Free.

Starts Wednesday at the St. Anthony Main Theatre: Minneapolis Underground Film Festival. Forget the blockbusters, the tentpoles, the superheroes and the CGI. The eighth annual MUFF (as it’s affectionally known) features more than 122 short films, many Minnesota-made. This year’s selections include the American premiere of “Smoke Filled Lungs,” about an American war veteran dealing with addiction issues; “The Sound Before the Fury,” in which jazz saxophonist Archie Shepp revisits his album “Attica Blues,” an homage to the Attica prison rebellion (this film screens with a short narrated by Idris Elba); and (we are not making this up) “Dickumentary,” described as “everything you’ve always wanted to know about the penis but were afraid to find out.” FMI including complete lineup and tickets ($5-$8.50, all-access pass $120).

Dr. Elizabeth J. Wilson
Dr. Elizabeth J. Wilson

Thursday at the U’s Continuing Education and Conference Center on the St. Paul campus: Headliners: “Energy Evolution: Shaping the Future of Electricity.” Dr. Elizabeth J. Wilson, associate professor of Energy and Environmental Policy and Law at the Humphrey School and an inaugural Andrew Carnegie fellow, shares the initial results from a multi-university project that compares the decision-making processes of three Regional Transmission Organizations, whose members are shaping the future of electricity. It may sound dry as yesterday’s toast, but it’s all about keeping the lights on tomorrow. 7 p.m. FMI and registration ($20).

Thursday at the U’s Walter Library: Anna Journey Reading. Journey’s poetry collections include “Vulgar Remedies” (2013) and “If Birds Gather Your Hair for Nesting” (2009). She grew up in Bangladesh, India and Virginia and teaches creative writing and literature at the University of Southern California. 7 p.m. Free.

Friday at Mindekirken: Rune Alver, Norwegian Pianist. Alver plays music of Chopin, Grieg (who was inspired by Chopin’s music) and works by Norwegian composers Geir Tveitt, Harald Saeverud, David Monrad Johansen and Johannes M. Rivertz. Alver is known as an interpreter of Grieg. Presented by the 28th Annual Leiv Eriksson International Festival. 7:30 p.m. Suggested donation $15.

Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Kathleen Park on 10/06/2015 - 12:19 pm.

    Language That Excludes

    After telling us who John Freeman is, we get this sentence: ‘Louise Erdrich … you know who she is’.

    No, not everyone knows who Louise Erdrich is! Using that language implies that this column is only for us insiders who already know the score.

    I would like to see MinnPost avoid this kind of exclusionary language. it can put off new people who might have become interested in the arts.

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